TUMBLR

A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...



Posts tagged "academic writing"

Mar 03, 2013
Permalink

Feb 16, 2013
Permalink

Why most academic writing sucks

Kingsley Amis described a certain kind of academic article in Lucky Jim:

…niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.

Richard Dawkins claimed that unintelligibility was a way to obscure a lack of ideas:

Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life, collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.

Peter Elbow has a more sympathetic take:

When we academics were in graduate school, we were trained to write badly (no one put it this way of course) because every time we wrote X, our teacher always commented, “But have you considered Y? Don’t you see that Y completely contradicts what you write here.” “Have you considered” is the favorite knee-jerk response of academics to any idea. As a result, we learn as students to clog up our writing with added clauses and phrases to keep them from being attacked. In a sense (a scary sense), our syntactic goal is create sentences that take a form something like this:

X, and yet on the other hand Y, yet nevertheless X in certain respects, while at the same time Y in other respects.

And we make the prose lumpier still by inserting references to all the published scholars — those who said X, those who argued for Y, those who said X is valid in this sense, those who said Y is valid in this other sense.

As a result of all this training we come to internalize these written voices so that they speak to us continually from inside our own heads. So even when we talk and start to say “X,” we interrupt ourselves to say “Y,” but then turn around and say “Nevertheless X in certain respects, yet nevertheless Y in other respects.” We end up with our minds tied in knots.

And writing about art isn’t any better.

(Thx @mattthomas!)

Nov 15, 2010
Permalink
You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.

Aug 24, 2010
Permalink

Jun 03, 2010
Permalink
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

If y’all are looking for a quick, funny read, check out this book.

It not only contains the greatest description of a hangover ever written, but also perhaps the best description of academic writing: 

…the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what?

The perfect “school’s out for summer” read.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

If y’all are looking for a quick, funny read, check out this book.

It not only contains the greatest description of a hangover ever written, but also perhaps the best description of academic writing:

…the article’s niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance. ‘In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what?

The perfect “school’s out for summer” read.

Feb 26, 2010
Permalink
In the hooded world of academia, scholars are holding on to unintelligibility as a way to distract you from their lack of originality.
— Madison Moore, “I Hate Academic Writing" (via)

Apr 01, 2009
Permalink
Calvin and Hobbes (via Gerry)

Calvin and Hobbes (via Gerry)

Subscribe to my newsletter and get new art, writing, and interesting links delivered to your inbox every week.